Peace gate could open permanently
Children from two north Belfast primary schools, — Holy Family and Currie — watched last week as Justice Minister David Ford officially opened the gate in the divisive ‘peace wall’ in Alexandra Park, allowing two communites to build relations.
Dinah MacManus, the principal of Holy Family, said she hoped it would strengthen friendships between the schools.
She said: “We work together very, very closely and this is a great opportunity for us to use a bigger, shared space and for the children to come together.
“Hopefully, then, the friendships which have already been formed will now continue after school in this beautiful park.”
Ashleigh Galway, who is acting principal of Currie Primary, said: “Both our schools are already working together, but this means we can take that work further and children can continue their friendship outside of school hours.”
The Alexandra Park wall was installed on the first day of the 1994 IRA ceasefire to ease tensions across the interface, erected to stop sectarian violence between the nationalist Newington area and the loyalist Tiger’s Bay but soon became an ‘ugly’ landmark.
It is the only park in Western Europe that is divided by a barrier. The new gate linking both sections will be open from 9am to 3pm on weekdays for a three-month period.
If tensions do not manifest, it is set to be opened on a permanent basis.
Sam Cochrane, from the North Belfast Community Development and Transition Group, said it was a big step towards building community relations.
He said: “We are delighted to see the peace gate open in the park and this will hopefully represent a new era for both communities who live and work in the surrounding areas.”
“The friendships and working relationships that have been forged through the cross community steering group over the past three years has enabled this work to materialise.
“We are hopeful that the regeneration plans within the park will bring about further developments in terms of community relations within both communities on this interface area.”
Steven Corr from Belfast City Council’s parks and leisure committee, which contributed £40,000 towards the £160,000 project, said it was an investment which would benefit the community for years to come.
Mr Ford, who performed the opening ceremony, said it challenged the belief that peace walls must be a permanent feature.
“This is happening because local people want it to happen,” he said.
“We spend so much time using the euphemism ‘peace wall’, but these divide and have nothing to do with peace and all to do with stopping violence. Opening the gate is what builds peace. Getting children mixing with each other is what a shared future is all about,” he added.
Sylvia Gordon, Director of Groundwork Northern Ireland said: “Groundwork NI has been working closely the steering group over the past two years and with local residents and community groups from both sides of the communities surrounding Alexandra Park to move the regeneration plans forward.
“The opening of the peace gate is a first step towards bringing both communities together through a recreational space and we would hope this will have a direct and positive impact on the daily lives of people who live within the area of the park.”